PORTRAIT OF JENNIE
B&W (with tinted color segment and one color scene), 88 min.
Released: April 22, 1949 (Selznick Releasing Organization)
Cast: Jennifer Jones (as Jennie Appleton), Joseph Cotten, Ethel Barrymore, Cecil Kellaway, Lillian Gish, David Wayne, Florence Bates, Henry Hull, Albert Sharpe.
Director: William Dieterle
Producer: David O. Selznick
Tagline: "If you love...or have ever loved...here perhaps is the most tender, and yet terrifying love story ever told!"
Complete Credits at IMDB
Miss Spinney (Barrymore), an art gallery owner, tells penniless artist Eben Adams (Cotten) that he needs to find inspiration to make his paintings really great. While strolling through Central Park on a cold winter day, he meets an enchanting young girl named Jennie who is dressed in clothing from an earlier time. Subsequent meetings with Jennie reveal that she has grown older and Eben finds himself falling in love with her. He paints a beautiful portrait of her which reveals to Miss Spinney that he has found his inspiration. But as Eben discovers the secret of Jennie's past, he must race against time to keep tragic events from happening again.
It is a miracle that Portrait of Jennie turned out to be the beautiful classic that it is considering its' turbulent production history. The story was based on a novella by Robert Nathan and Selznick had been intrigued by the book for several years. He had already selected it as Jennifer's next project following Duel In The Sun. However, censorship problems with that film as well as other projects delayed the production. Jennifer was loaned out for Cluny Brown and by early 1947, Selznick was ready to begin Portrait.
The film was to be shot on location in New York and Boston, Massachusetts. Selznick hired David Hempstead to oversee the film production and report back to him in Hollywood. Filming began in February of 1947 but Selznick was very unhappy with the film results that were being flown out to him. He disliked the photography and felt that the story was coming across as vague and dense. The script itself went through four or five writers (including Selznick) before the project was completed. Fantasies are not the easiest stories to film and this one was proving to be a nightmare. Through various stops and starts, the film was not completed until October of 1948.
The film was already way over budget when Selznick decided that the ending was weak and he re-filmed the entire final sequence using a specially tinted film stock which gave the scene an odd greenish tint. It proved to be yet another overkill tactic to a hopelessly overblown production. The film was released briefly in December of 1948 to scathing reviews and empty theaters. It was re-released nationwide in May of 1949. It was Jennifer's first film to bomb at the box office.
Portrait of Jennie, however, was a film ahead of its' time. Today it is loved by film fans everywhere and is considered one of Jennifer's best films. It is certainly one of her best acting performances and it is a mystery why she was not nominated for an Academy Award (she was much better here than in Duel In The Sun). Her transformation from a young girl into a mature young woman is entirely believable. She is as enchanting in the film as in the specially painted portrait commissioned to artist Robert Brackman. The portrait became one of Selznick's prize possessions and he proudly displayed in their home after they married.
There are many wonderful elements in Portrait of Jennie. The movie has a magical look to it and projects an atmosphere of otherworldliness. The opening of some scenes look like a matte canvas which slowly dissolves into live action. The music was adapted by the works of Claude DeBussey and works perfectly to evoke the mood of the film. The entire cast does an excellent job. Ethel Barrymore is particularly memorable as Miss Spinney. The chemistry between Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones is exceptional. This was their fourth film together but would sadly be their last. But overall, in addition to the technical perfection of the film, it succeeds in being a beautiful love story and an example of Hollywood fantasy at its best.
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